Recent Responses

I have just accepted a tenure-track position at a school that I am convinced suits me quite well; while I love to write, I am a teacher first and consider writing a wonderful (and wonderfully frustrating) secondary priority--and these match the priorities of the school. I taught for several years as an adjunct and have taught for a few as a contract faculty member. So I know much of the goings-on and how to be successful in a university setting generally (or, I assume, I wouldn't have gotten the tenure-track offer). I am wondering if there is advice you can give for a person moving from the contract level to the tenure-track level? Are there particular things to keep in mind during this time? s2

Thomas Pogge 4/8/06 (changed 4/8/06) Permalink Congratulations on the new job. Without claims to completeness, let me make one point in response to your query. An important new element in your next job is that you will have a voice and a vote in your department and possibly in other university bodies as well. University politics can be very dirty and corrup... Read more

In many introductory text that take a topical approach to understanding philosophy theology is not listed as a branch of philosophy; however, the philosophy of religion is. Why is that? This is especially confounding in that texts that take an historical approach always include a section covering Scholasticism.

Douglas Burnham 4/7/06 (changed 4/7/06) Permalink You are right, it is confusing, isn’t it? I guess the simplest answer is that theology is thinking of a broadly philosophical type that takes place within the framework of a given religion or set of beliefs. Whereas, the philosophy of religion is thinking that takes place, as far as possible, outside of or i... Read more

I have a question about something Nietzsche said in <i>Twilight of the Idols</i>. Under morality of physicians he writes "... some advice for our dear pessimists and other decadents. It is not in our hands to prevent our birth; but we can correct this mistake- for in some cases it is a mistake. When one does away with oneself, one does the most estimable thing possible. one almost earns the right to live." Is Nietzsche advocating suicide for weak-minded people? joe s.

Douglas Burnham 4/7/06 (changed 4/7/06) Permalink As always with Nietzsche the context needs to be reconstructed. The passage as a whole is addressed to physicians, but the claim you quote is addressed to ‘pessimists’; to those who would renounce life and its values, while continuing to live. Nietzsche is simply asking such pessimists to take seriously thei... Read more

My parents tend to blame the ills of UK society on the Thatcher government. In relation to this, I wonder to what extent a single figure or political era can shape a people, given that whatever a party or figure says or does comes from the prior possibility for that particular action or speech. Philosophically speaking, can we hold a single figure or political era responsible for any society considered 'as a whole' (i.e., seen in general)? Also, can you direct me to any philosophers who have written about this? thank-you.

Oliver Leaman 4/6/06 (changed 4/6/06) Permalink I suppose we could point to important figures such as Hitler and Stalin who surely can be said to have made a significant contribution as individuals to political life, albeit negatively, and Winston Churchill in a more benign manner. It might be said that they could only have exercised such influence had the... Read more

A friend of mine working for a business recently claimed that his business was bribing a petty government official involved in the audit of their government tax/duties accounts because the government official was demanding a bribe. He managed to reduce the bribe amount to half or even less. My question is this: Is it right for him to take a high moral ground compared to the bribe taker? His argument is that like pollution, corruption is required to be reduced and since he managed to reduce the bribe amount, he did the right thing morally and ethically speaking. I argued that my friend is as much an accomplice in the ethical wrong doing as the bribe giver(the business) and the bribe taker(the petty government official). My friend seems to be stuck on the "pollution analogy" and feels he has done a great act by reducing the bribe amount like reducing the "pollution". Can you expose ethical issues invoved in the above?

Oliver Leaman 4/6/06 (changed 4/6/06) Permalink Well, it might be that your friend is right to feel happy with what he has done since the system of bribes is so commonplace within the culture that it is inevitable and has to be accepted as just another business expense. That would not be to approve of bribes but to acknowledge its ubiquity. What he should b... Read more

Before a computer is assembled, it's a pile of useless wires and hardware. Put it all together and the whole is much greater than its parts, in that it can do things like beat the best chess player in the world. Conversely with the human brain, severe enough head injuries can cause profound changes in personality. Doesn't this "whole much greater than the sum of parts" not prove that dualism fails Occam's razor? I mean, if there was a soul independent of brain matter, where does it go after severe head injuries? By all accounts, people are not who they used to be after such unfortunate losses. Thanks Jeff

Richard Heck 4/6/06 (changed 4/6/06) Permalink Most dualists hold that the mind acts through the brain somehow (assuming they hold that the mind "acts"). Hence brain damage would diminish the mind's ability to act, much as damage to other parts of one's body might. Most dualists (but not epiphenomenalists) would also hold that changes in the body (mostly, t... Read more

Is there such a thing as formal inductive logic? It seems to me that whether or not an inductive argument is good or not depends on its semantic content, not just its syntactic form, which makes it impossible to formalize in the way that deductive logic is formalizable.

Richard Heck 4/6/06 (changed 4/6/06) Permalink There have been several attempts to formalize an inductive logic, but none that have been as uniformly successful as formalizations of deductive logic. See the Stanford Encyclopdia entry for more. Log in to post comments

If people of different "races" can have clear physical difference (appearance, or even immunities to certain diseases), could this not also mean there could be differences in ability to learn, or mental differences altogether?

Richard Heck 4/6/06 (changed 4/6/06) Permalink Of course there could be all kinds of differences between races, including differences in native intelligence, ability to learn, and so forth. The only significant question is whether there are such differences, and there has never been any decent reason to believe that there are. Part of the problem here is th... Read more

Hello, I would like to ask a question about ethics involved when nudity is permitted in public places. I live in Sydney, Australia. At one of the most popular beaches here (which hosts tens of thousands of people per day and is freely available to anyone who wishes to go there), a man was arrested and fined $500. This was punishment because he had been on the beach with a camera, surreptitiously photographing women who were lying on the sand, with no tops on. He was discreet such that almost none knew at the time that he had photographed them - after they apprehended him, police went around with his camera, identifying people and approaching them with the images in hand. Many people using this beach choose to sunbathe disrobed, of their own free will. The man admitted that his actions were intended to further his own sexual gratification. Although I think the man's behaviour was in poor taste, using others as mere means to his own selfish ends, on consideration I cannot see why it should be held illegal or punishable. Firstly, anything that is visible from any public place is obviously visible to anyone who happens to be in that public space, and that includes busses, houses, trees and people who choose to disrobe. I have never heard of a law that prohibits anyone seeing whatever it is they see from a public place. Secondly, if it is permissible for passers-by to see a person on Bondi Beach who has chosen to disrobe, then ought any emotional or hormonal response stimulated in the viewer be prohibited, as long as the person so exited does not act in a way that harms others? If it were so, then surely every person who has ever been sexually exited by the sight of a stranger's disrobed body, and then silently lusted about it, has acted in a prohibited way. Thirdly, how using a camera to 'fix' an image of what one can see, and preserving this image, significantly different to seeing it? Even if we assumed the man intended to use the photographs for commercial gain, then how is this different to him taking a photo of Sydney Harbour, including in it the thousands of buildings lining it, and using this photograph for commercial gain? What about images of all manner of things available on Google Earth? Fourthly, shouldn't the onus for privacy lie with the people who have chosen to disrobe? If they do not wish people to photograph their bodies, should they not keep them robed while they are in a public space?

Nicholas D. Smith 4/13/06 (changed 4/13/06) Permalink As a matter of prudence, I am inclined to agree with the arguments of the questioner--if one does not want others to photograph one's exposed breasts (or other body parts), one should keep them covered in public. On the other hand, I don't think that the issue is quite as simple as this. The man who was... Read more

Hello, I would like to ask a question about ethics involved when nudity is permitted in public places. I live in Sydney, Australia. At one of the most popular beaches here (which hosts tens of thousands of people per day and is freely available to anyone who wishes to go there), a man was arrested and fined $500. This was punishment because he had been on the beach with a camera, surreptitiously photographing women who were lying on the sand, with no tops on. He was discreet such that almost none knew at the time that he had photographed them - after they apprehended him, police went around with his camera, identifying people and approaching them with the images in hand. Many people using this beach choose to sunbathe disrobed, of their own free will. The man admitted that his actions were intended to further his own sexual gratification. Although I think the man's behaviour was in poor taste, using others as mere means to his own selfish ends, on consideration I cannot see why it should be held illegal or punishable. Firstly, anything that is visible from any public place is obviously visible to anyone who happens to be in that public space, and that includes busses, houses, trees and people who choose to disrobe. I have never heard of a law that prohibits anyone seeing whatever it is they see from a public place. Secondly, if it is permissible for passers-by to see a person on Bondi Beach who has chosen to disrobe, then ought any emotional or hormonal response stimulated in the viewer be prohibited, as long as the person so exited does not act in a way that harms others? If it were so, then surely every person who has ever been sexually exited by the sight of a stranger's disrobed body, and then silently lusted about it, has acted in a prohibited way. Thirdly, how using a camera to 'fix' an image of what one can see, and preserving this image, significantly different to seeing it? Even if we assumed the man intended to use the photographs for commercial gain, then how is this different to him taking a photo of Sydney Harbour, including in it the thousands of buildings lining it, and using this photograph for commercial gain? What about images of all manner of things available on Google Earth? Fourthly, shouldn't the onus for privacy lie with the people who have chosen to disrobe? If they do not wish people to photograph their bodies, should they not keep them robed while they are in a public space?

Nicholas D. Smith 4/13/06 (changed 4/13/06) Permalink As a matter of prudence, I am inclined to agree with the arguments of the questioner--if one does not want others to photograph one's exposed breasts (or other body parts), one should keep them covered in public. On the other hand, I don't think that the issue is quite as simple as this. The man who was... Read more

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